By Lauren Rearick
A high school valedictorian’s microphone was silenced in the middle of a tribute she made to Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice at her graduation in Dallas, Texas. She believes it was an intentional action by her school.
Rooha Haghar, a graduate of Emmett J. Conrad High School, intended to dedicate a portion of her valedictorian speech to unarmed Black children affected by violence, Buzzfeed reports. As she explained in a tweet, her comments included a send-up to “students who were robbed” of their opportunity to graduate. She appeared to get through most of those mentioned on her list, but when she got to Trayvon and Tamir’s names, her microphone went silent.
“My valedictorian speech was cut short because I said the names of Black children who had become victims of police brutality,” Haghar wrote on Twitter. “Our principal signaled for my mic to be turned off as soon as I said ‘Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice’ and played it off as a technical difficulty. Pathetic.”
In 2012, 17-year-old Trayvon was shot and killed in Sanford, Florida; his killer was later acquitted on charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter. In 2014, a Cleveland, Ohio police officer shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir; a grand jury found the officer not guilty. Both murders became focal points of the Black Lives Matter Movement, an organization founded to “intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes.”
Haghar told KXAS that the deaths of Trayvon and Tamir personally impacted her: “It made me feel sick, honestly, because I was close to their age and knowing this is a reality that Black families have to deal with.”
Dallas Independent School District confirmed to MTV News that it’s investigating Haghar’s claims. “In Dallas ISD, we educate leaders of tomorrow and encourage student voices, and we are looking into this matter,” a spokesperson said via email.
According to a Haghar’s tweeted statement, she shared the speech with a teacher one week before the ceremony. She alleges that she was instructed not to mention Trayvon or Tamir, as the teacher believed “mentioning those names will incite anger towards white people, a group which according to him experience high levels of discrimination in America.” As CNN reports, a study from the Annals of Internal Medicine found Black men are 14 times more likely to die by firearm homicide than white men.
In a subsequent meeting with her principal, Temesghen Asmerom, Haghar was again reportedly told not to mention Trayvon or Tamir. According to her account of the meeting, Asmerom told Haghar the speech “did not fall within the DISD valedictorian speech guidelines.” The principal reportedly advised the student to change her wording, suggesting that Trayvon and Tamir’s names be replaced with a line that read, “all children who become victims of injustice.” Haghar felt it was important to mention them by name; “We forget names and move on within a few weeks,” she pointed out to KXAS-TV.
Ultimately, Haghar decided to move forward with her version of the speech. “I never expected to be silenced,” she told KXAS. “The consequences I was expecting to face was them holding my diploma or having a conversation with my principal. I never expected them to not allow me to finish, because at the end of the day, schools want to raise socially conscious students, students who are able to think for themselves. That's what I was doing.”
Since posting the video on Twitter, Haghar’s tweet went viral, and many have responded with support for her decision. “They turned off your mic but gave you a whole new audience,” one person wrote. “I read the excerpt from your speech and I’m deeply moved. You’ll do great things! I’m sure of it.”
Even with the unexpected silencing, Haghar stands by her decision. "I don't have any regrets," she told KXAS. “And if it took me not being able to finish my speech, then so be it."